While I was an undergraduate at Mount Allison University in Sackville NB, I took a Poetry course from Dr. Albert Furtwangler. My chief memory of the class as a whole was the enthusiasm with which I approached the class and my concomitant lack of preparation. It was a seminar class and while I rarely – if ever – actually read the material before coming to class, I certainly participated most enthusiastically when discussing it. One of the particular poems discussed in this class was a poem called “The Red Wheelbarrow”.
The Red Wheelbarrow
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
– William Carlos Williams
I was incensed by this poem! Enraged almost. It was just not so. The reason for my outrage revolved specifically around the phrase ‘a red wheelbarrow/glazed with rain water’. No wheelbarrow of my acquaintance was a) red or b) so pristine as to let water glaze it. Generally wheelbarrows were mucky things, rusty, dented with a wobbly wheel. They sit outside collecting rainwater and rusting until they are needed to shovel muck and move mud. As a farmers child I KNEW what wheelbarrows really looked like.
And so the germ of an idea came to me. I would write a real poem about a farm. A poem incorporating the dirty barn, the manure gutter, spider webs, feral cats and farting cows, a poem that did not whitewash the world, but showed it as it was. As this idea began to take hold my idea became grander in scope. I would write this poem – this reality poem before reality TV was even a blip in the eyes of TV producers everywhere – and it would be a sonnet! And so, I did.
The cows bellow, it’s late, they want their food.
The calf bawls, butting his milk-bucket, hoping
He will get more milk. Slowly, a new mood
Settles. The cows fed, the calf stops crashing
Against the wooden stall. Still, the cats,
Prowling, hungry, wait for the foaming milk,
Too many grey, lean shapes. The farmer’s mouse-trap,
Barns will always have many of their ilk.
The long legs grip the milk-bucket, the head,
Pressed against the cow’s flank, as the warm
Milk sizzles in. Or is delightedly
Squirted towards a kitten’s sleeping form.
Home surrounds the milker, as the scent
Of the barns lulls him, and he is content.
So. Didn’t I just do exactly what W.C. Williams did in The Red Wheelbarrow? Isn’t mine just as romanticized an image of the barn as his is of the wheelbarrow? You tell me.